The journey and consequences of an accident
When an accident occurs on your site, the first question often asked is: ‘whose fault is it?’
It may surprise you to find that the root cause of an accident is not always from the construction site.
So, the genesis of an accident may already in place before you even start on site.
This could be attributed to a poor company safety culture.
Why does a good safety culture matter?
Simple, companies with a good safety culture tend to have less accidents.
Of course, accidents can happen at any time, but preventable accidents are usually due to a slack approach to safety management.
Every company will say that safety is their top priority, but the proof is in their approach and decision making from top management.
This is because a company safety culture is driven from the top. The approach to health and safety by the company directors and top management can ultimately determine how safe your company and employees will be.
Directors in companies with a good safety culture focus on safety by investing in safety training, suitable equipment and plant etc. They carry out effective site inspections, investigate any accidents and act on any findings. They encourage open communication and consultation where workers are inspired to be vigilant about safety and to report any concerns they have.
Companies with a poor culture tend to focus more on costs. Naturally, costs are important but not be at the expense of safety. This approach is seen in tender pricing where safety and training costs are cut or there is pressure to complete works quickly. These companies don’t invest in qualified safety advisors and the culture is such that near misses and even accidents are not recorded or properly investigated.
Outcomes of a poor safety culture:
In June 2023, a major contractor appointed administrators, becoming the largest firm to go under in the construction sector since October 2021. The company’s financial situation wasn’t helped by a serious accident.
In March 2021, a demolition worker suffered serious injury after falling from a platform at one of its sites.
Two years later, in May 2023 the company was fined £234,000 and ordered to pay £12,369 costs after being investigated and prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive.
The HSE stated, “Falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries and this incident was completely preventable”.
Accidents can happen at any time but having a poor safety culture means that you are more likely to have one than not.
Until you or your company has been involved with a serious accident / incident it may be hard to understand the severe and dramatic wide-ranging impacts that such an event can have on your company.
Following a major accident, you will need to stop work, cordon off and preserve the accident area for investigation and communicate with other site workers and ensure that all relevant facts are shared.
A serious accident is likely to be a RIDDOR so senior management / directors need to be told, the HSE will need to be informed especially in the case of a major or fatal accident.
If it is a major or fatal accident, word will get around quickly and the press or even the police may get involved.
This could be just the start of your problems.
The long-term impact of a major accident:
The impact of a major accident does not just affect the site at the time of the accident but can have long lasting implications for your company.
Not only has one of your workers on site suffered a serious accident, but you also had to stop work which could cause delays that put pressure on your construction programme leaving you at risk of incurring LAD’s.
A major accident is almost certainly going to involve the HSE as they investigate the most serious work-related incidents, injuries or cases of ill health.
The time the HSE spends investigating your company will cost you. You will pay for however long it takes them to identify what has happened. This is called a Fee For Intervention (FFI).
Note: The HSE recovery rate under Fee for Intervention in 2023/24 is currently £166 per HOUR!
Not only do you have to pay the FFI, but you will also have to take time out of your busy schedule dealing with the HSE which is expensive and stressful. People underestimate the time that it takes to get from the accident / incident to court. The case below took nearly three years to get to court
In July 2020 a 10-year-old boy died after falling down a manhole on a building site in Scotland.
An investigation by Police Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive found that insufficient measures had been taken to prevent children from gaining access to the construction site.
In April 2023, the construction company pleaded guilty to breaching safety rules and was fined £800,000 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £60,000.
After dealing with the HSE if you or your company are found to have violated safety regulations and caused an accident, you could be prosecuted and fined. In some cases, company directors have been imprisoned.
Even if there are no fines or imprisonment there may still be a record on the HSE Public Register of Enforcement Notices with improvement and prohibition notices displayed. These are displayed for a period of five years.
Other related impacts:
These records can have a significant impact on your company reputation as below:
- Difficulty with tenders: Public and private sector clients are increasingly require companies with a good safety record before awarding them tenders. A company with a poor safety culture may find it difficult to win tenders as a result.
- Recruitment difficulties: Workers are more likely to want to work for companies with a good safety record. A company with a poor safety culture may find it difficult to recruit and retain workers.
If your company has a poor safety culture it can:
- Increase costs due to accidents and injuries such as medical expenses, compensation payments, and fines. Projects delayed by accidents may incur extra costs due to LAD’s etc.
- Reduce productivity due to lost time with accidents, injuries, delays to projects.
- Create low morale where your workforce is likely to be motivated and productive if they do not feel safe in their workplace.
Improving safety culture:
As we have seen, a poor safety culture is a breeding ground for accidents.
As a director of a construction company, you can influence your workers to develop a good safety culture and minimise accidents by:
- Leading by example.
- Investing in safety.
- Empowering workers.
Leading by example:
A company safety culture is driven from the top. Your workers will take their clues from your approach. You must make it clear that safety is the top priority for you and the company, and show you are committed to creating a safe workplace.
- Be visible and visit sites often and not only when things go wrong. Set an example by wearing the correct PPE and follow all safe work practices. A regular and positive presence on site shows that you care and this can increase morale.
- Consult with your workers about safety on a regular basis and participate in safety meetings and training sessions. Show that you care by acting on any safety concerns raised by your workers.
- Incentivise and reward your workers for excellent safety performance.
Investing in safety:
This is providing your workers with suitable safety training, equipment, and support. It means carrying out site safety inspections via an internal safety advisor / external consultant or a combination of both.
- Invest in a recognised safety accreditation such as SSIP or ISO standards.
- Ensure workers are suitably trained and competent by investing in training. There are many courses are available for discounted training such as via CITB Training Groups etc.
- Invest in suitable PPE. Branded PPE will send out a statement. Agree minimum standards of PPE on site.
- Carry out regular site safety inspections and make sure any findings are addressed and closed out.
- Ensure that all equipment is properly maintained and regularly inspected and recorded.
This is creating a culture where workers feel comfortable reporting safety concerns without fear of retribution.
- Encourage workers to be open about safety concerns in a collaborative ‘no-blame’ environment.
- Take all safety concerns seriously and investigate them and take action where needed to address them.
The above has hopefully shown how a good company safety culture is essential in creating a safe company by preventing accidents, protecting employees, and fostering a positive work environment. Prioritising safety measures can reduce workplace injuries, enhance employee morale, lower costs, improve reputation, and ensure the successful, safe completion of projects.
So, investing in safety is not just a matter of ensuring compliance but a strategic decision that benefits both the company and its workforce.